Podcast aims to bring scientific foundation to outdoors discussions

By Eve Newman

Laramie Boomerang

Via Wyoming News Exchange

LARAMIE — Conversations about hunting, wildlife management, public lands and conservation have moved squarely into the podcasting world in the past few years, with the digital platform well-suited to in-depth discussions about specialized topics.

For almost two years, four Wyoming biologists have been offering their perspective on outdoor issues via Right to Roam, a podcast that aims to bring science and expert opinion into a culture they say can lack a rigorous foundation.

“There’s a lot of people coming into this space that don’t have the background — either in the field or the expertise on the science and biology side — and we just wanted to balance the discussion,” said Chris Sheets. “We were hearing things that just weren’t true, and they’re educating a culture.”

Sheets, who lives in Buffalo, is joined in the podcasting effort by Lee Knox of Laramie, Adam Teten of Buffalo and Sam Lockwood, who lives near Wheatland. Sheets and Teten grew up in Cody, and they met Knox and Lockwood at the University of Wyoming, where they all studied wildlife biology.

“We all went to college together at UW, and we’ve been hunting and playing together ever since,” Lockwood said.

Knox and Lockwood work for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Sheets works for the Bureau of Land Management, and Teten volunteers for a range of conservation organizations. Their opinions, of course, are their own.

Knox said biologists are “typically very bad” about disseminating the results of their research with the general public. Sheets agreed, adding that outdoors enthusiasts can be the types that like to keep to themselves.

“We think the information will speak for itself, and it doesn’t,” he said.

Right to Roam aims to offer a fact-based perspective to discussions about issues of all types, such as grizzly bear management, pronghorn migration, how media coverage influences conservation, and what Wyoming’s gubernatorial candidates think about Wyoming-specific issues.

“Nothing is off the table,” Sheets said. “We’ll talk about anything, as long as it’s done constructively and critically.”

Longer in-depth episodes are mixed with shorter ones on topics such as planning a backcountry excursion or rabbit hunting, which include lots of personal stories. Guests are a frequent occurrence on the show.

“My favorite episodes are when we have a guest on and I know absolutely nothing about the content, and that’s the fun part — we’re learning as well,” Sheets said. “Some of them are way smarter than us, and we’re totally fine with that.”

A recent episode, hosted by Sheets, Lockwood and Knox, featured Rachel Fanelli and Lauren Stanton with the UW Raccoon Project, a research group that’s exploring cognition in raccoons and skunks.

The wide-ranging conversation explored theories about why some animals thrive in areas where people live, while others don’t — perhaps a more generalized diet plays a role, they said. The researchers also talked about how they measure cognition in raccoons and skunks, how human interactions influence wildlife and how they go about capturing the small animals.

In another episode, Sheets, Lockwood and Knox talked with Kristen Gunther from Wyoming Outdoor Council about politics in the West, public access, wilderness study areas and public involvement.

Sheets estimated their audience ranges from 20,000-40,000 listeners per episode, with their promotional efforts coming via social media channels or word of mouth.

They’re continuing to learn the technical side of podcasting, have plans to upgrade their equipment and are eager for audience feedback. In a recent episode, Teten hinted at plans for a live event at a theater in Bozeman, Montana, in March.

Sheets said their goal is to continue promoting science-based discussions about issues that spark strong opinions.

“To me, that’s the ultimate end result,” he said.